Man who saved 2.4 million babies by donating blood 'retires'

Man who saved 2.4 million babies by donating blood 'retires'

Man who saved 2.4 million babies by donating blood 'retires'

After 60 years of saving lives, James Harrison is finally retiring from his position as "the man with the golden arm". His plasma contains an antibody (Anti-D) that can treat Rhesus D Haemolytic Disease (HDN) in unborn babies.

When Mr Harrison started donating, his blood was deemed so special that his life was insured for one million Australian dollars. This could lead to a woman's next baby suffering from hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN), as the fetus' red blood cells get rejected due to incompatibility of blood type between mother and child.

But if Harrison had his way, he'd still be offering up his golden arm to donate even more.

Harrison began donating blood after he went through a major chest surgery when he was 14-years-old, said the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. His blood has special disease-fighting antibodies which medical professionals have used to develop an injection called AntiD, which combats against rhesus disease.

It only happens when the mother has rhesus-negative blood (RhD negative) and the baby in her womb has rhesus-positive blood (RhD positive). These donors' unique antibodies, when injected into an Rh-negative mother, prevent her body from attacking the Rh-positive baby's cells.

At the moment, only 200 donors are qualified for the Anti-D program, though Australian Red Cross Blood Service officials are hoping more people will be eligible for their program going forward.

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'Medications like Anti-D are a life-giving intervention for thousands of Australian mums, but they are only available because men like James give blood'. "Every batch of Anti-D that has ever been made in Australia has come from James' blood".

"And more than 17 percent of women in Australia are at risk, so James has helped save a lot of lives". This included Harrison's own grandchildren, as his daughter Tracey required an Anti-D injection in 1992, shortly after her first of two children was born.

Using plasma extracted from Harrison's blood, doctors devised the Anti-D injection, which was first given in 1967 to a pregnant woman at Australia's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. "I increased the population by so many million, I think".

The discovery of Harrison's antibodies was an absolute game changer, Australian officials said.

James told CNN: "It becomes quite humbling when they say, "oh you've done this or you've done that or you're a hero".

At 81, Harrison had already surpassed the age limit allowed for donors.

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